I am reluctant to admit my fascination with the murder trial going on in South Carolina. I listen on my earbuds, connected to YouTube on my phone while walking along the river flats. It is a …
I am reluctant to admit my fascination with the murder trial going on in South Carolina. I listen on my earbuds, connected to YouTube on my phone while walking along the river flats. It is a real-life companion to the BritBox murder mysteries my husband and I watch on TV.
If you are not the kind of person who revels in another person’s misery, let me summarize for you the trial of the year. A lawyer, the son of a prominent South Carolina family, was arrested and charged with the grisly shotgun and semi-automatic rifle murders of his wife and 22-year-old son in June of 2021. There is no physical evidence, and the only motive put forth by the state is his admitted embezzlement of millions of dollars of client money. He has been addicted to oxycodone for 20 years, but the money he stole went to pay for his family’s lifestyle, a bad land deal, as well as his drug habit. By most testimony, theirs was a close-knit, loving family with no history of violence.
The son, Paul, had been charged in the death of a friend during a boating accident. He denied responsibility, but was demonized by many in his community and on social media. Civil lawsuits threatened to expose his father’s stealing. Death threats abounded on the internet. But what kind of man causes his beloved son’s brain to shoot out of his skull onto the pavement, ending his life? What kind of husband causes his wife to suffer an agonizing bullet wound to her stomach before shooting her through the head?
Is it the same man who weeps on the stand, professing his love for the two murdered family members, while another son looks on? The same man who hires someone to shoot him in an attempted suicide a few months later? Maybe.
That’s what fascinates me.
That, and what he has to gain by claiming his innocence if guilty. He will already spend decades in jail for his financial crimes. His life is ruined, guilty or innocent of murder. Is the crime just so horrific that he can’t admit it even to himself? I think most of us would want to be punished if we had managed to commit such a crime. But most of us aren’t psychopaths. Is he?
Since the trial is in South Carolina, most of the testimony is conveyed with a southern drawl. “Yes, Ma’am” and “Yes, Sir.” “Yu’up, Nah.” “Mr. Alec, Miss Maggie,” is customary parlance. No one is referred to just by their first name.
In the same way, I often root for a team not my own, when nothing is at stake for my team, I find myself rooting for the defense or the prosecution, according to the strength of their argument. This defendant’s ability to work the prosecutor, by virtue of his long experience with the law, is arresting. Most murder defendants are urged not to testify in their defense, but this one is and he is convincing, as psychopaths often are. As the prosecutor starts to get on a roll with his questioning, Murdaugh interrupts his momentum with questions or clarifications meant to delay and maybe even to bore the jury. This annoys the prosecutor, who becomes testy and unlikeable. I want to say, “Hey, you’re accusing him of murder, he has a right to be clear about your question.”
Recently we had to abandon one of our TV mysteries mid-series. My husband found the main character too diabolical for his taste. I watched it alone later in the week. Fascinated.
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